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Coronavirus Enters San Diego County’s Senior Care Facilities

Signs in front of the Stellar Care senior living facility limiting guests dur...

Photo by Laura McVicker

Above: Signs in front of the Stellar Care senior living facility limiting guests during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 26, 2020.

The coronavirus made its grim arrival at San Diego County’s senior care facilities this week — three have confirmed cases and three others are awaiting test results, according to county officials.

The officials have refused to release the names of the facilities with cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. KPBS, however, has identified two of them.

One is La Vida Real in Rancho San Diego, where four staff members have tested positive.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and requiring all staff in the assisted living and memory care building to wear masks when inside the building and use personal protective equipment when interacting with residents showing any symptoms, per CDC guidelines,” La Vida Real said in a statement.

Another worker is awaiting the results. Also, four people living in La Vida Real’s memory care section have been tested after showing symptoms.

Reported by Amita Sharma

Meanwhile, at Stellar Care in San Diego's College Area, one person has tested positive and several others have undergone testing.

These facilities are especially vulnerable to deadly outbreaks both because people are living in close quarters and the elderly far more likely to have serious and fatal cases of COVID-19 than younger, healthier people.

Two weeks ago, senior care facilities countywide started banning all but essential staff. Employees, supply and delivery people have their temperatures taken when they arrive and must answer questions about travel and potential exposure to COVID-19.

Someone with the virus, however, can be asymptomatic for two weeks, and facilities have limited access to testing kits. Also, KPBS has learned that some senior residential communities have obtained their own test kits but are only using them on residents, not employees.

This is concerning to public health advocates, especially in light of the outbreak that swept through a group of senior care homes in a suburb of Seattle in recent weeks. A CDC investigation of the outbreak, which has killed more than three dozen people, found that it was caused by staff members spreading the virus.

Advocates say the low pay and benefits earned by frontline caregivers in these facilities exacerbate the problem.

The median pay for a caregiver is $13 an hour in California. Most of these workers live paycheck to paycheck with little or no paid sick leave and may feel pressure to come to work even when they’re not feeling well.

Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy for PHI, a national elder-care advocacy group, hopes a silver lining to this crisis is greater awareness.

“The horror of this moment and the learning opportunity of this moment are bringing to light all the flaws and all the inequities,” Espinoza said.“There is a growing shortage of direct care workers because these jobs are so poorly paid.”

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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